There are so many streaming services to choose from these days. What started with the likes of Netflix and Hulu has ballooned to include curated studio services such as Disney+, HBO Max, and Peacock. It’s understandably difficult to stand out among a very crowded market. Jeffrey Katzenberg seemed very confident that his new service, Quibi, would be that service.
Quibi stands for “quick bites” and was a service intended for an on-the-go market of people looking for content to watch during their commutes. Each episode of every show on Quibi was intended to be ten minutes or less. It was a service that attracted a host of exciting celebrities and creators, such as Anna Kendrick, Kevin Hart, Sam Raimi, and even Steven Spielberg. Quibi was due to launch with shows from these creators, plus a new season of the cult hit Reno 911, and much more.
The service was met with bewilderment at first, and then with curiosity as the launch grew closer and the marketing began to ramp up. In April, 2020, Quibi was released to the world. The major selling point was that one could watch any program on the service in both vertical and horizontal formats seamlessly.
How did a streaming service that was made for the on-the-go market hope to survive in a market that was no longer on-the-go? Co-creator, Jeffrey Katzenberg wasn’t worried. Quibi launched at number 3 in the app store and boasted an impressive 1.7 million downloads. Quibi was an easy sell at launch; plenty of fan favorite creators and a 90 day free trial. It was low risk with a pretty high reward for subscribers.
For 90 days, Quibi had no worries. Confident that everyone who signed up for the free trial will either choose to keep the service or, at the very least, forget they subscribed. But then, the 90 day free trial ended and Quibi lost 92% of its subscribers. An unprecedented disaster for the new streaming service. What seemed like a fun, new, quirky service, was now in major trouble. A 90 day free trial was unusual in the first place since most streaming services give a week or a month. Normally for a free trial, audiences don’t have the time to finish the shows that they watch so they keep paying the subscription fees. But with 90 days of short form content, any subscribers they had were likely finished with everything on the service by the time it was up.
By June, most of the high executives had to take pay cuts. But, Katzenberg said everything was still running smoothly. By August they had lowered the price, and by September they were looking to be bought out by a larger company. Still hoping to bring in customers, they made the service available on smart TV’s like Amazon Fire. The move certainly made sense from a business standpoint, but it lost the gimmick appeal. A program can’t be seen vertically on a television.
None of this really mattered because the writing was on the wall for the short lived streaming platform; the days were numbered. On October 21, 2020, just 6 months after the service launched, they announced that the service was shutting down. Katzenberg blames the “timing” of the launch of the service for its untimely demise. Since everyone was stuck at home, short form storytelling was no longer in vogue.
But many industry insiders didn’t buy that excuse. One Forbes article was quoted saying “just because consumers like watching Netflix on their phones doesn’t mean the mere idea of watching content on their phone is exciting.” Quibi was just a misguided concept from inception. With Quibi shutting its doors, the only question left is “what happens to all the content that was on the service?” Quibi was an interesting concept since it didn’t own any of the content that it distributed; the creator of the content did. So now that Quibi is no more, the rights to everything reverts back to the content creators. They’re able to do with it as they wish, whether that means shopping it around or just letting it go.
With the streaming market so packed these days, (HBO Max and Peacock also launched this year) it may be difficult to find the right idea to break into such a crowded space. Sadly, there’s no way of knowing if Quibi would have done better had the pandemic not started right after its launch. It might have proven the naysayers wrong and truly been the next big thing. However, now it’s just the first casualty in the streaming wars; a service that we will look back on in five years and say, “Remember Quibi”?